Hip Hop began in Bronx house parties and expanded. In the early 80s, rappers began appearing on MTV and gained greater exposure. Run-DMC crossed over in mid-decade and the genre began appearing on the charts. However, hip hop did not truly become a major force in music until Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer tallied impressive sales and chart success. The two rappers were safe for suburbanites and served as unwitting Trojan horses.
The New York City blackout in 1977 did more for Hip Hop’s expansion than any singular event or artist. Looters raided electronics stores, cleared out the turntables, microphones, and other equipment, and set up on New York’s streets. Two years later, The Sugarhill Gang and Kurtis Blow enjoyed chart success. In 1981, Blondie incorporated a rap into “Rapture” and scored a #1 hit. Intrigued record executives began signing rappers and MTV emerged.
Critics attacked MTV for not playing enough black artists. However, the network did show “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash during the day. White audiences tended to scoff or laugh at Melle Mel’s costume while ignoring the music. However, a door opened and Run-DMC broke it down. In 1986, the group teamed with Aerosmith for a cover of “Walk This Way.” The song’s influence paved the way for other Hip Hop acts.
Hip Hop continued to make the occasional appearance on the pop charts for the next few years. In 1990, MC Hammer released “U Can’t Touch This” and Vanilla Ice dropped “Ice Ice Baby.” The two songs became monster hits. The two artists did not threaten Middle America. Hammer seemed like a nice guy while Ice came across as a bit of a goof. Vanilla Ice attempted to establish himself as a gang banger, but few believed him. Despite this, many compared Vanilla Ice to Elvis Presley. The twin success of Hammer and Ice validated Hip Hop as a commercial outlet and dramatically expanded its audience. At the same time, the public grew weary of top 40 hair metal that dominated the radio. The perfect storm led to Hip Hop’s popularity.
While record companies portrayed MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice as family friendly, hard core rap artists began to be noticed. In particular, NWA, Ice T, and Public Enemy emerged with politically and racially charged lyrics. They laid the groundwork for the popularity of “gangsta” rap in the 1990s. However, without Ice and Hammer, rap probably does not break into the mainstream. They served as the proverbial Trojan horse.
Hip Hop continued its rise to glory in the 1980s. The genre occasionally scored chart success in the early part of the decade and gradually gained acceptance. Run-DMC’s “Walk This Way” opened the door for more artists to be recognized. Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer enjoyed mass success and appeal leading to increased focus on the genre. Their “safe” reputations unleashed the Hip Hop era. They would be discarded in its wake.